Does the Bible forbid using an alias?

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    Profile photo of Hannah R.
    Hannah R.

    Hello, KeePers. I’m back–in another theological quandary.
    So here’s the backstory. I have a finished manuscript called Prince of the Barbarians. (If you’ve read this, you’ll be especially helpful to this discussion, so let me tag y’all… @catwing @jadamae @dragon-snapper @daeus @jess.)
    The novel centers around a young prince named Cerdic, whose father is unexpectedly assassinated. Turns out, the assassin is Cerdic’s stepmother, the queen Grymelda, and she doesn’t plan to stop with her husband. Cerdic and his half-sister, Garawyn, flee the castle and run into a humble Christian family, who counsels them to live in disguise as commoners among the common people until they’ve gained their trust. The idea is that once the people learn to trust Cerdic and Garawyn (not knowing that they’re the prince and princess), the two royal runaways can reveal their true identities, and the people will be willing to support them.
    If they just walked into the village and introduced themselves as the prince and princess, they would immediately be killed, because everyone hates the king, and, therefore, the king’s children. So it seemed very natural to my characters– and to me– that they should assume aliases while living among the common people.
    Recently, one of my astute readers noted that in order to pull this off, they would technically be lying to people. Now, Cerdic and Garawyn aren’t Christians at the beginning of the story, but they are living with the Christian family, so the family has to lie, too. Which brings up my question: Is it wrong to conceal one’s identity to protect one’s life?
    I could see this going several ways.
    Case 1: It’s wrong, because it’s deception, which the Bible clearly forbids. I think the issue of deception in general came up on KP before, and the consensus was that it’s wrong. Of course we can point to instances like Rahab and the Hebrew midwives and all that, but they were never praised specifically for their deception, only for their faith, so those situations are kind of muddy. While the ninth commandment only forbids false witness (as in court, which would cause someone harm), other verses explicitly state “Do not lie to one another” (Colossians 3:9). God will take care of you if you obey his word by following the truth. And if it means you die, well– God is pleased by your sacrifice.
    Case 2: It’s not wrong. Now, I could be completely wrong, but it seems to me a little…reckless?…to throw one’s life away because of a legalistic approach to the law. We are no longer bound by the law. We have been saved by grace. Does that mean we should sin? “By no means!” (Paul.) But if we look at the New Testament, in the instances were deception is forbidden, it can be assumed that the deception spoken of is done with ill intent.
    Which brings us to situations like WWII and hiding Jews from the Nazis. Was it wrong for Corrie ten Boom to construct a false wall in her house to keep Jews behind? That was deception. Yet few of us would question that she was right to protect God’s people, the Jews. Corrie’s sister, Nollie, taught her children never to lie, on any condition (if you don’t know this story, please go read The Hiding Place right now, because it’s wonderful). They kept Jews in a trapdoor under their table, and when the Nazis came to their house and asked where they kept Jews, Nollie’s daughter answered, “Under the table.” The Nazis thought she was crazy and left. God provided for her honesty. But is there a place for both the Corries and the Nollies?
    I tried to think of Bible stories where people specifically concealed their identities, and all I could come up with was King David pretending to be insane before King Achish (1 Samuel 21). I always thought, “Clever,” when I read this story. But was it wrong? He’s never commended for this act. And we all know David, though a man after God’s heart, had some flaws… like that whole Bathsheba incident, which we definitely do NOT want to emulate.
    I know that God sent spies (Caleb and Joshua) into the promised land. By nature, spies are meant to blend in, which probably requires an alias (but maybe not). Is that sort of the same thing? Or not?
    Was David wrong to play insane? Are social experiments where actors create situations to see how people respond wrong? Is it wrong to deceptively hide Jews? Is it wrong for an undercover agent to be undercover?
    The prince and princess in my story have a .001% chance of surviving if they tell the people who they really are. So is it wrong for them to protect themselves by creating false names and false backstories, so they can survive long enough to reveal the truth and lead their kingdom in truth?
    Please help. If you can’t tell by the confusing nature of my reasoning in this post, I’m very confused. And distressed. My entire story– my life’s work (for three years)– hinges on this deception being morally justifiable. But if it’s not, I have some serious reworking to do, and I’m willing to do it for God’s truth to be preserved.
    Throw all your thoughts at me. Even if something you believe has already been said by someone else, say it again, so I can see more than one person feels that way.
    Many thanks!

    Profile photo of Kate Flournoy
    Kate Flournoy

    @His-Instrument great questions.

    My first thought is that comparing the practice of using an alias to protect one’s life to pretending madness is a little extreme. For one, your name is not who you are. It’s just what people call you. ‘By their fruit you shall know them’, not ‘by their name’.
    That said, I believe it’s a fair question and there’s something to be said for each side of it. I’ll come back after thinking over it more if I can find a more concrete answer.

    That said— even if using an alias is wrong, that doesn’t mean you can’t keep your story as it is. After all— even Christians make mistakes. Simply reflect your own uncertainty of a morally grey area into the story. Show the benefits and the repercussions of their decision to hide their names. There are repercussions for every decision, good and bad. Are there people whose trust they worked really hard to gain? Show the distrust those people feel when they discover they were deceived. Raise questions. You don’t necessarily have to answer them. A good book asks more questions than it answers, leaving the reader curious and wanting to discover answers for themselves.

    Profile photo of Daeus


    Well, I don’t mean to be excited by your calamity, but this is a really good subject.

    I’m not going to express my whole opinion here, because I want to do some research first, but I’ll say a few things now.

    First, a Christian family doesn’t always have to do the right thing. In such a case however, I do think it would be best to cast some doubt on whether what their actions were Christ-like. Maybe they would be very uncertain themselves. Or maybe something bad could come from it. It’s up to your imagination.

    If you decide that lying is wrong and that you also don’t want Christians in your book to do it, make sure to think outside the box. Could this family possibly hide Cerdic and Garawyn’s identities without lying? Like the table example, often times there’s a clever alternative.

    That brings me to my next point. I don’t believe that deception is the same as lying. For instance, God told the children of Israel to lay an ambush when they attacked Ai. They deceived Ai’s defenders into thinking their whole force was fleeing, when in fact it was just a ruse to get them out of the city. I think there’s also a case for stretching the truth to a degree. Like when Paul claimed that he was on trial for the hope of the resurrection.

    Now, you said that, “if we look at the New Testament, in the instances were deception is forbidden, it can be assumed that the deception spoken of is done with ill intent.” What instances are you referring to and what convinces you they could be interpreted this way?

    I’d also like to throw in this random inkling of mine that people would be able to safely avoid a lot of lies if they determined before hand not to lie. It seems to me that a person’s creative side is squelched when pressures bring out an “either or” mindset in them where they think they must either lie or get caught.

    That, of course though, is just my opinion. What really matters is what the bible says. Personally, I don’t think there is ever a provision for lying, but I want to research it some more before I give a final decision. Certainly, at least, I see no reason to excuse lying for pragmatic reasons. That would seem to me like Abraham seeking a descendant through Hagar in order to preserve the line through which all nations of the earth would be blessed.

    Profile photo of Kate Flournoy
    Kate Flournoy

    @His-Instrument yeah. What he said.

    Profile photo of Dragon Snapper
    Dragon Snapper

    @his-instrument *blink* Wow, excellent question… I had to think about this one…

    However, my answer is not going to be as theological or philosophical as @daeus and @kate-flournoy πŸ˜›

    So, it wasn’t your post that made me think about this, but rather, the title. Your word alias, made me think about all the alias’ in the world right now. Pen names. Half of us on here are probably using a pen name, because, well, it’s the internet. I don’t really know much about the biblical reasoning behind this, but the world uses pen names, everyone does, to keep themselves safe.

    Thoughts? I’m willing to try to expand my own thoughts a bit more…

    Profile photo of Hannah R.
    Hannah R.

    @dragon-snapper I would venture to say using a pen name is different. For one thing, in your case, we all know your parents didn’t name you Dragon Snapper. So we’re not being deceived into thinking you’re a Dragon. We understand the need for internet privacy and respect it, so it’s not a deception– it’s more like an agreement. We all agree safety is important, so we supported your decision to keep your anonymity. Anonymity isn’t deception.
    But here’s another question: Jean Valjean.
    @daeus and @kateflournoy, I might not need to say more. πŸ˜‰ But I’ll say more anyway for the rest of you. So, Jean Valjean is an escaped convict during the French Revolution. So the stakes are really high, because if he’s caught, he’ll be imprisoned for life or executed. Javert, a policeman who can’t fathom anything but justice, has pretty much committed his life to tracking this guy down.
    To protect himself, Valjean assumes an alias: Monsieur Madeleine. It allows him a fresh start. He becomes wealthy, and uses that wealth to save others. But when his deception almost gets another man killed in his place, he has to decide between the lives of those he protects as Monsieur Madeleine, or the life of the poor fellow mistaken for Jean Valjean. He chooses to reveal himself… That time. But when the life of the orphan girl Cosette depends on him not being arrested again, he sneaks into a convent and pretends to be the gardener’s brother… And lives like that for years. Is that wrong? I know there’s way more to the story than that– 1000 pages more, to be specific– but that’s all I have time to share. Thoughts?

    Profile photo of Kate Flournoy
    Kate Flournoy

    @His-Instrument excellent example. I’ll just point back to what I said in my first post about consequences for every action, good and bad. Did Jean Valjean save Cosette’s life by assuming a name (and history) that was not his own? Possibly. Very probably.
    Could God have saved her life anyway if Valjean had told the absolute truth? Yes. Undoubtedly.
    But as a consequence of his fear, Valjean missed out on that. And not only that, but he did eventually have to come face to face with the reality of who he was anyway, after having tangled himself hopelessly in net after net of deception. Would the story have ended the way it did, if he had told the truth? Would it have ended better?

    As of right now, it seems to me this is not a question of safety, but of faith. To state unequivocally that it’s either lie or die is logically unsound. To man’s finite eyes, perhaps those are the only choices. But thankfully it isn’t man who rules the universe. πŸ˜›

    Unless you’re going to make the argument that there is somewhere in the Bible a commandment to deceive, it seems that the answer is pretty clear. There is no ‘Deceive your enemies, lest your strength be found lacking and they destroy you’.
    It’s ‘Wait for the LORD, and He will save you’.
    It’s scary. A good majority of Christians probably don’t have that kind of faith (myself included).

    For Valjean, if he had told the truth, the story would have been different, yes. It might have been sadder on the outside, even. We’ll never know. But where man’s invention gives out, God always has an answer. Probably not the one we were expecting, but always infinitely better in the end.

    So, as I said, I don’t think you need to scrap that part of your book. But there are two things you need to show, if you keep it— the consequences of their deception, and the story they missed. The story that could have been. Looking back and wondering if they had had the courage to speak out, God would have made a way, and how much easier it would have been to rely on Him instead of forging their own way in fear.

    See, humans are kind of like moles. They’re so blind they can only see a few very tiny steps ahead, and when the next step looks like a four-hundred-foot drop-off the wise thing to do seems to be stop and look for another way. What we can’t see is God waiting on the other side, ready to reach across and lift us over what to Him is only a line in the sand. He’ll let us go the way we want— and suffer the consequences. But He wants us to rely on Him so He can bless us beyond measure with His mercy.


    Profile photo of Hannah R.
    Hannah R.

    @kate-flournoy @daeus
    Thank you so much for your excellent thoughts! I agree that God is definitely powerful enough to save lives even when we think our honesty might ruin everything.
    The only thing that’s still tripping me up is the difference between lying and deception. Even outside the context of my own story, this question perplexes me. I mean, war is built on deception. You want the enemy to think you’re attacking from a different direction. You don’t want the enemy to know you’re a spy. Again, what about undercover agents? I’m reminded of an episode of Adventures in Odyssey called The Labyrinth. Do any of you know this one? It’s about Jason Whittaker, who is a secret agent, and the web of deception he gets caught in while trying to preserve the truth. Because he is spiritually strong, he is able to keep himself from being polluted by the deception, but it’s very hard for him, and he does have to deceive people with a false identity. I may have to relisten to this, because I think the overall theme was deception.
    What about Gideon? The point of having every man with a torch was that usually, armies carry one torch for every several men, so for the Midianites, 300 torches looked like 1200 men. Is that deception? If so, it was commanded by God. Not that God didn’t have anything to do with striking terror into the hearts of the Midianites, just that there was a specific reason for the torches and water pitchers.
    And what about hiding Jews? Is hiding something or someone deception, since you are making it look like you don’t have that thing or person in your custody?
    I’m sorry… I know I’m asking a lot of questions. Please don’t think it’s because I’m trying to justify deception. I just want to understand how this looks in the modern world, as well as in times of war. I’m beginning to discover that a lot of the moral stances I’ve had from when I was little are no longer as black and white as I thought they were.
    Daeus, when I mentioned that New Testament cases where lying is forbidden seem to indicate lying with a malicious intent, I was thinking of Colossians 3:8-10: “But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” The other things mentioned, like malice and slander, are definitely done with evil intent, and since lying is listed with these things, it’s possible to read it as “lying with the intention of hurting others.” The Bible doesn’t say that, and I realize that. I may be making an assumption, and I’m not saying I believe this verse justifies lying, I’m just saying that’s one way to interpret it– looking at the heart, rather than at the action.
    For my story, I can think of a way the characters can pull it off without lying, but the very fact that they’re keeping their identities secret requires deception. I don’t think I have time in the story to discuss any repercussions of deception, and I don’t have room for another theme like that. Do you think having the Christian characters discuss why they feel justified in doing this would be enough?

    Profile photo of Daeus

    @his-instrument Of all the instance of deception you mentioned, I don’t see problems with any of them. Except perhaps the alias one. I would think that a false is probably okay, but I’m not totally sure about that. I don’t think the bible specifically condemns deception and, like you pointed out, God sometimes commands deceptive tactics in battle.

    In your own story, with my not-tottaly-thought-through understanding, I think it’s fine for your characters to take on false names. However, I believe they said they were closely related to the Christian family they stayed with, correct? That certainly wasn’t true. If you could keep the false names without that lie about them being related, I think that would be best.

    As far as trying to show that it’s not okay to lie without rewriting your whole story, see if you can just attack the end justifies the means reasoning. That’s the reasoning behind why people lie, so you’ll be handling the issue indirectly.

    However, I don’t think it would be sinful if you didn’t address the lying issue. You’re not teaching evil, and I think anyone who would look at your story and decide there are acceptable times to lie would already believe that. What’s at stake is that you have an opportunity to fight back against moral relativism and you don’t want to let that chance go if you can help it. I don’t think rewriting your story is the best thing to do, all things considered, but do your best to think up a reasonable solution.

    Profile photo of Aislinn Mollisong
    Aislinn Mollisong

    Wow! This is deep! I’ve never thought of this before. Perhaps, though this might not work, the prince and princess would be actually lying, saying they were relatives of the family or whatever you were going to have them say. The family maybe doesn’t know that the MCs are saying this for a while, and when they find out about it they teach them what the Bible says about lying, that it is wrong. They promise not to lie anymore, but maybe they mess up again, and say something that actually put them in danger. Then your story can go on from there, and you can kind of weave a sub-theme in there.

    With the alias thing, personally I don’t think it’s wrong. But if you feel like God is telling you something, trust him and go with what He says.

    Profile photo of Jada Morrison
    Jada Morrison

    First off, I want to thank you, @Hannah-R for taking the time to think through this and wrestle with the question. It’s definitely a good thing to have thought through since it affects so much of how we live. So why does God forbid lying? Because He is true in every single way and is even unable to lie. That “why” is always good to remember. πŸ™‚ I need to think and pray through exactly what I think about it though…You know, even things like makeup could be counted as deception. Perhaps (just throwing this out there) there is a difference between telling a lie and withholding the truth? Like I said, I need to
    ponder it.
    As far as your book, I don’t see a way that you could easily put in repercussions for lying, but you change it to the Larcwyds take in Cerdic and Garawyn and say they are fatherless, homeless waifs, which is completely true. No one would think twice because the Larcwyds are kind people. They would give them a home in exchange for their help on the farm. When asked where they lived before, they could just say, “Not too far from here, but we didn’t come into town much…” (Providing that’s true)

    Profile photo of lifeofkatie

    @his-instrument – These are great questions and I really appreciate what @daeus & @kate-flournoy had to say. In the Bible there is no approval for lying; because God always provides a way for the truth, even if it’s not the way we wanted.

    (Your story does remind me of a Lamplighter book called Sir Malcolm and the Missing Prince. A young, arrogant prince was taken from his home and sent to live with a poor widow in a small village. There, he took on an alias as the widow’s son. He tried to speak the truth on some occasions but was laughed at, because, judging by his appearance, he didn’t look like royalty. This whole experience was meant to teach him a lesson in humility and put others before himself.)

    If you read or watched Lord of the Rings, Aragorn, the great king, played the “Ranger” for years because of fear. Like @kate-flournoy said..what was “the story they missed. The story that could have been. Looking back and wondering if they had had the courage to speak out, God would have made a way, and how much easier it would have been to rely on Him instead of forging their own way in fear.” Usually, when acting out of fear nothing good comes from it; however, God will use our frail imperfect mistakes to bring glory to Himself. So even though, Aragorn took on an alias for years, it was actually perfect timing when he became king.

    So, I liked what @kate-flournoy suggested: “…there are two things you need to show, if you keep itβ€” the consequences of their deception, and the story they missed.”

    All of that to say is that I don’t believe that lying is ever okay before a holy and pure God, but God does use our mistakes in His master plan to bring glory to Himself. “…the truth will set you free.” John 8:32

    Profile photo of Dragon Snapper
    Dragon Snapper

    @his-instrument I suppose that is true.

    Profile photo of Kate Flournoy
    Kate Flournoy

    @LifeofKatie mm… though see now, I’m not entirely sure that was wrong, in Aragorn’s case.
    *raises eyebrows* Clearly I still have some thinking to do. πŸ˜›

    Profile photo of Jada Morrison
    Jada Morrison

    Oops. I tried to tag the wrong Hannah earlier. @His-instrument So I was thinking about this last night. Perhaps it isn’t wrong to withhold the truth and allow others to think incorrect things when you are planning to reveal the truth? I was trying to think about any examples from Jesus and I thought of the story of the road to Emmaus. He never told them who He was, so they assumed has was just another guys off the street, when in fact he was/is the King of everything. He allowed them to think that of him until later when He finally revealed himself. Maybe that helps, maybe not.

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